The sea has always had a role to play in the fortunes of the Granite City. Though brightly coloured fishing boats still frequent the steely grey waters off the coast of Aberdeen, the city has become much more famous for another commodity harvested from the seabed: oil.
The discovery of North Sea oil in the 1960s transformed this north eastern Scottish city from a fishing port and shipbuilding centre, to a global energy hub. Around 43bn barrels have been produced since drilling began in the 1970s.
Today Aberdeen is an economic powerhouse. Despite having just 4 per cent of Scotland’s population, the city produces 28 per cent of Scottish GDP. Factor in the sur- rounding region of Aberdeenshire, and you have 9 per cent of Scotland’s population responsible for producing 14 per cent of the country’s goods and services.
It’s no surprise then that over half of jobs in Aberdeen are supported by North Sea oil and gas, according to figures from Oil and Gas UK. Aberdeen is home to the head offices of both EnQuest and Wood Group. It’s an industry that brings thousands of visitors a year to the city.
According to the city’s Chamber of Commerce, around 50 per cent of overseas visits to Aberdeen are for business purposes, compared to 17 per cent for Scotland overall. Come September, the city streets and its 800 shops, restaurants and bars will be filled with some 63,000 expected visitors to SPE Offshore Europe, the biggest oil exhibition outside North America, which runs from 8 – 11 September.
But it’s not all work and no play for visitors. “Aberdeen is an economically buoyant city which is in the enviable position of having low levels of unemployment and a highly skilled workforce,” says James Bream, research and policy director for Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. “But we also have surf to the east and mountains to the west, castles, great food and drink and culture all around us.”
This gateway to the Highlands is within easy reach of whisky distilleries and scenic natural beauty. Nicknamed the ‘castle county’, Aberdeenshire is home to over 300 castles, from cliff top ruins to Royal residences such as Balmoral. For anyone wanting to do business at the 19th hole, award-winning golf courses such as Royal Deeside and Royal Aberdeen (home of the Scottish Open) are nearby. Their lure has proved too strong to resist for many visitors, according to VisitScotland which estimates some 10,600 business trips a year to Aberdeen may involve playing golf.
Global oil price slumps have not left the city unscathed. Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce are calling for Government help with future-proofing the energy industry through measures including reduced business costs and improved infrastructure. Work has already started on a new city bypass, the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, which forms part of £1bn spend on city masterplanning over the next few years, funded by both the public and private sector.
Not all businesses in the city are directly involved in oil. Aberdeen Harbour, as well as being the oldest existing business in Britain – a claim certified by the Guinness Book of Records – is also one of the UK’s busiest ports, generating in excess of £1.5bn annually. Aberdeen is also home to the head offices of Aberdeen Asset Management (one of the city’s biggest exports with offices in 23 countries), transport operators First Group, and the Shore Porters Society. The storage and logistics company has been operating since the 15th century.
Food, drink and tourism are also major industries here. Maverick craft brewer BrewDog – which recently raised £5m of a £25m crowdfunding target in just 20 days – calls nearby Ellon home. The brewer, which is the UK’s fastest growing drinks brand, grew annual turnover by 63 per cent in 2014 to over £29.6m, and exports its beers to 50 countries. But stumble into its flagship bar on Gallowgate and you’ll find an array of experimental tipples.
The grey towers, turrets and columns of this stone city have seen some changes over the years, but one thing is certain. This city was built to take anything the infamous Scottish weather, or economy, can throw at it. And it does it with style.
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